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SMALL BUSINESS | JANE APPLEGATE

Staying in Touch Will Benefit You and Your Business

July 15, 1998|JANE APPLEGATE | Jane Applegate is the author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business," Bloomberg Press

One of the quickest ways to lose control of your business is to operate it in a vacuum. You may think you are too busy or too important to get out of the office and connect with the outside world, but if you don't keep in touch with what's going on, you are putting yourself and your employees in jeopardy. To find out just how out of touch you are, ask yourself these quick questions:

When was the last time I took a major client or customer out to breakfast or lunch?

When was the last time I attended a monthly Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting?

When was the last time I signed up for a professional enrichment course or attended a meeting?

When was the last time I attended an industry trade show or conference?

If you haven't been out of your office for months, dust off the cobwebs and get back in touch.

Here are some ways to reconnect:

* Scan the trade magazines piling up in the corner of your office. Find out where the next industry trade show will be held and register to attend.

* Check the local business calendar for the next Chamber of Commerce mixer and force yourself to go. You'll meet at least one new person and may generate some business.

* Volunteer to speak to students at a local high school or community college about what it's like to be an entrepreneur. If you haven't been in contact with younger people lately, it will be an eye-opener.

* Call your best customers or clients to schedule breakfast or lunch meetings with them. Do the same with your key suppliers and vendors. Keeping in touch helps you anticipate their needs. It also prevents nasty surprises if someone is about to take his business elsewhere or give a competitor preferential treatment.

* Do something good for your community. Sponsor a soccer team, make a charitable donation or host a Red Cross blood drive.

* Send a prepaid postcard survey to ask your customers what you are doing right and wrong. Most people will be honest when you ask for their opinion.

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The Service Corps of Retired Executives is looking for a few good women. SCORE, which has about 13,000 volunteer counselors in the United States, wants to encourage more experienced businesswomen to sign up for the corps.

"Currently, 13% of the counselors are women, while 40% of SCORE's clients are women," said Patty DeDominic, president of PDQ Personnel Services in Los Angeles.

DeDominic is SCORE's special counsel for women's issues. Her primary mission is to come up with a plan to recruit more female volunteers.

Despite the name, you don't have to be retired to volunteer at SCORE. You do have to be an experienced businessperson who wants to help novice entrepreneurs succeed. You also have to promise not to sell your services to people seeking help. A survey sent to 1,200 current female SCORE counselors revealed that 60% were recruited by word of mouth; 53% said they planned to continue working with the group.

Last year, SCORE volunteers counseled about 250,000 people, and the organization received more than 1 million visits to its Web site (http://www.score.org). The site offers an enormous amount of practical business information, including online counseling services.

DeDominic, a former national president of the National Assn. of Women Business Owners, said she plans to contact major professional organizations and women's groups to look for new talent. If you'd like to find out more about becoming a SCORE volunteer (woman or man), check out the Web site or find a local chapter through the Small Business Administration.

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July 31 is the deadline to enter your card in this year's Best and Worst Business Card in America contest. Send your business card to Applegate Group, P.O. Box 768, Pelham, NY 10803. Winners will be announced in a future column.

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Jane Applegate is author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business." For more resources and to contact her on the Internet, visit http://www.janeapplegate.com or send e-mail to info@janeapplegate.com.

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